The one thing destroying your life
Updated: Apr 28
In this anecdotal article, you'll hear about the most terrifying experience I've had all year and how I realised that the true enemy in life is not at all what you think it is.
How it all began...
Hot, sweaty and kind of smelly, it was 7.30am and I had just come back from my run. It was my last Saturday in the little French village of Apt, where I had been living for the past month. I had my morning planned out - stretch, shower, breakfast, go to the local market for fruit and veggies. Then get back to the apartment about 9.00am and write the content for a leadership workshop I was running in October. About 11.30am, I had to leave for a tour of some local mines, set in the ochre-brazen landscape just outside town.
I drank some water, and went to throw some vegetable stalks left on the bench before my shower. As I opened the door of the cupboard and lifted the white metal lid of the large round bin inside I saw… MAGGOTS DRIPPING FROM THE LID ONTO THE SIDES OF THE BIN!!!
I stifled a scream, the shock causing me to drop the lid back on, slam the cupboard door shut and catch my breath over the kitchen sink. It was disgusting, putrid. Not the smell, there wasn’t anything that really smelled bad (except me, maybe). But the memory of those little white worms wriggling and dripping. Ewwwww! Last night was unusually hot, so it must have been ripe conditions for them.
I hurriedly searched under the sink, convinced I had seen some rubber gloves and bug spray when I explored the place on check in. Nothing. I looked in the shelving in the laundry. Nothing. Under the bathroom sink. Nothing.
I needed reinforcements, and they needed to be HEAVY DUTY! Gathering my keys, wallet, and some plastic shopping bags, I hurriedly escaped the apartment and weaved through the narrow streets filled with market stalls and people to the nearest supermarket.
The rising fear
And as I walked, a strange thing happened. As time went on, the fear inside me grew. I began to imagine how these worms, if they were hanging off the lid, must be all through the bin. It had to be an INFESTATION. The entire black garbage liner was probably a writhing mess of bugs, that would dance gruesomely as I heaved it down the stairs to the communal bins around the block. As a usually confident person, my mind was cartwheeling around indecision and disaster scenarios.
A couple of people were hovering outside the supermarket as I arrived. Nuts - it’s closed. Seeing the opening time of 8.30am, I checked my phone… it was only 8.00am. I had to go back to my apartment and wait with my new friends for another half an hour, and then walk all the way back to the supermarket to get my bug-killing supplies. I was hot, still in my gym gear, and hadn’t yet had breakfast. I noticed a cafe, deciding I needed sustenance for the battle about to begin. I didn’t want to walk too far as I knew I’d be walking for an hour at the mines later. I had a hot chocolate and a croissant to settle my nerves, texting my boyfriend about my predicament and the impending war where there could be only one victor.
Even more rising fear
More visions came to my mind and with them the fear stacked - what if the garbage liner was broken, and the rubbish and maggots sprayed all over the floor? How would I get them all, how would I clean it up? Could I get one of the stall-holders to help me on my crusade? But in my limited French, how would I ask? And come on - they have a living to make at this weekly market. It was all up to me: I had no back up, no cover. Just my reinforcements in supplies.
Preparing for battle
I scrambled back to the supermarket, now open. I found the rubber gloves. Then I searched four or five aisles for the bug spray. Finally concluding that the French don’t dispose of insect housemates, I started formulating how I could empty the bin when I couldn’t spray them into submission. And felt sick to my stomach imagining the things moving. And then… Hallelujah! Bug spray. And a familiar brand at that (thank you, multinationals!). I paid and walked back towards the town centre where the market was being held. I wandered here and there getting fruit and veg on the walk back, using the excuse that I was saving time later to delay what I knew I’d have inevitably have to do. I steeled myself against the anxiety that was rising as I walked back to the apartment. I had my armour (the gloves) and my sword (the bug spray).
The mortal combat
I actively avoided looking at the bin cupboard whilst I put away the groceries, and my nerves grew. And finally, it was time
I cleared a path to the stairs so maggots wouldn’t end up in my backpack or laptop case.
I unlocked and open the front door.
I got a second bin liner and laid it open on the floor, ready to double bag.
I gloved up, then shook and tested the spray.
I opened the cupboard door and sprayed my heart out into the dark void.
I couldn’t see anything even remotely like a maggot. So I lifted the lid and sprayed, sprayed, sprayed, seeing a few white crawlies dropping onto the bin lining outside the lid and onto the floor of the cupboard as I placed the lid back down. I waited a few moments, trying not to breathe in the spray fumes and fearing the next moment of truth.
Then I hardened my mind and held my breath with regret, reached in, and grabbed out the bin base by its handles. The lid was still on, and my imagination had left me believing that the lid was the source of “infestation” - some food stuck underneath, maybe? Lifting the lid and holding it upright I sprayed it heavily… finally looking and seeing that there was NOTHING THERE. I peered down at the bin...
Attack of the … babies?
All in all, there were about 7 or 8 sweet baby worms working their way around the top of the bin liner. They looked dismal and pathetic against the the large black ocean of plastic they were swimming on. There was nothing else I could see - it just looked like regular rubbish. I untucked the edges of the liner from the sides of the bin and pulled the drawstrings tight, quickly transferring it to the second bag. A worm had gotten free, and with my gloved hands I wiped it up with a wet wipe, along with the one that had fallen in the bin cupboard earlier, and pulled the second bag tightly closed too.
The killer always comes back to life
Still gloved, I walked out, locked the front door, passed through the market and around the block to the communal dumpsters. Coming back inside I took my gloves off in the kitchen and threw them in a small plastic bag - I’d use these for my last couple of days to prevent the big bin gathering rubbish and this happening again. And then as I went to wipe up some liquid spray from the drenching I’d given the kitchen floor, I noticed it: a little white straggler looping about lonely on the terracotta tiles. A tiny spark of shock and disgust hit me. I pulled another wet wipe and mopped it up, and immediately went out to the dumpster again.
I came back inside with a feeling of relief, showered, and came out for a cool drink. And lo - yet another straggler hanging out on the tiles. By this time I was so used to it, and hadn’t worn gloves for the previous one, so I grabbed another wet wipe and swooped it into a plastic bag which I left on the kitchen floor, planning to take out with me as I went back out to the market for my final groceries a few minutes later and now no longer feeling the need to rush it to the dumpster.
The whole ordeal had been three hours of my morning. I was exhausted with sore feet, having already done 12,000 steps and 10km and it wasn’t even 11.00am, and I still had the mines tour to do. I had no time left to write my workshop. I hadn’t even properly eaten. With the bugs now safely in the dumpster, having wasted my time, my money and my energy, I wondered - who truly won?
Fear grows over time
How often do we let one thing - one event or one thought - create an absolute disaster future in our mind? It’s true the first time seeing the bugs was actual disgust and shock. But what was worse was spending the next 2 hours letting my imagination run wild with my fear about what lay beneath the lid. I built it up so much in my mind, that the fear had grown to monster-size by the time it came to doing the thing I was fearing, making it even harder to use willpower to push through.
We’ve all heard that saying - “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” In my mind, it was a horror-movie infestation that would take over the apartment. In reality, by the time I actually saw what was really there, it was a few squiggles on black plastic. If I had just caught my breath over the sink and decided NOW was the time to resolve this issue, I probably would have been done and dusted by 8.00am instead of wasting 3 hours.
False Evidence Appearing Real
Or maybe you’ve heard that FEAR stands for: False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s true there were bugs. But I had no evidence for how many bugs, how the bugs would react, how the clean up would go. I made assumptions in my mind about how bad the infestation had to be in order for the bugs to have reached up the side… how wrong I was, and I felt pretty silly that I had a gut full of anxiety over so few insects.
How often do you make sweeping decisions about never doing something because of one previous stressful experience? Or worse - no experience at all! How often do you work yourself up so much in your head that you never take action. I’m a Career Change Coach and I’m not just talking about in your job. I’m talking about in your life, including your job? What if you gave yourself the chance to just push through fear when it’s a baby, give something a go, and likely find that your “infestation” is actually a few squiggles?
Familiarity is the mother of resilience
We talk so much about being resilient - being able to bounce back from challenges. But resilience actually comes from the repetition of facing your fears. As you do, fear is replaced by familiarity - you become comfortable with what was previously unknown or frightening. For me, after the full bin had been taken out, the second worm did frighten me a bit. But hell - I’d just taken out the whole bin! I was able to pick it up even without my armour (gloves). By the time I found the last squiggle on the floor, I was starting to speak to the damn thing like it was my pet, cooing to it that it would have a happy life in the dumpster.
ONLY 15 MINUTES EARLIER I WAS PETRIFIED! What happened? What changed? First - the truth and the reality that there was no disaster apocalypse in my kitchen cupboard. And second - familiarity. I’d done it before, a few times even - and now it was a piece of cake.
I do often push myself through fear to succeed at a challenge. But you know what, this is a skill I learned through repetition, not one I was born with. The only way to stop fear from destroying your life is to push through it when the problem first arises and is small and get on the other side of it as fast as possible. Trust me - you’ll save a lot of time, energy, money and emotional exhaustion... and you won’t end up with an apartment that smells of bug spray!
I'm Lata Hamilton - Change Leadership and Confidence expert, Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, and the creator of the Leading Successful Change program.
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